Any new iguana should get a full physical exam by a veterinarian. This is important as it allows you to know the health status of your iguana and how to maintain or improve it. Generally, it is recommended that you get a full physical at least once a year, and a smaller physical in between the full physical.
There are certain things that you can expect from a full physical. There are two parts to such an exam. The first is an examination of the iguana itself, and the second are tests that can be done. In addition, good communication between you and your veterinarian is essential.
Physical Exam - Before the tests are done, your vet should perform a physical exam of your iguana. Every part of your iguana should be inspected, from snout to tail. A good vet will note the condition of your iguana as well as any unusual symptoms. A good hands-on exam should include:
In addition, the vet should note if the skin (scale) quality is good and if the iguana looks dehydrated. The vet should also press on the iguana's bones (usually on the snout or jaw) to judge whether they are hard (good) or if they have give to them (which means that they have softened and changes need to be made in the iguana's care. See our page on Metabolic Bone Disease for more information). The iguana should also be made to walk along the floor to judge how well it is walking. The vet should be looking to see if the iguana lifts its body completely off the floor when walking, and if it walks strongly or not.
Tests - The second part of the physical involves blood tests and x-rays. X-rays can be a useful diagnostic tool. They can be used to exam a gravid iguana to see how well calcified the eggs are. This can help you to manage the rest of the iguana's gestation to make it safer. The x-rays can also show the density of your iguana's bones. If they don't show well enough on an x-ray, then you know that you need to change some aspects of your iguana's care.
Blood tests are excellent at tracking the levels of nutrients in your iguana's blood. When you know what the levels are, it is much easier to adjust your iguana's care. You also can check for infection. In reptiles, infections are generally slow to become noticeable and are often well established before you can start treatment. Frequent (every 6 months) blood tests can help with early diagnosis and treatment.
If you choose not to perform a full physical every 6 months, a mini-physical can be less expensive and still be very useful. It consists of a physical exam and mini-panels for bloodwork, instead of a full panel. For instance, you can ask that the lab only look at CBC (complete blood count, to check for infection) and calcium and phosphorus levels.
In addition to x-rays and bloodwork, a fecal exam to check for internal parasites is recommended yearly. You can help your veterinarian by bringing a sample of fresh (no more than 3-4 hours old, refrigerated) feces with you.
Communication - You should ask your vet several questions when making your first visit to his/her office. This will help you evaluate the vet's experience and knowledge of iguanas. See our Questions for the Vet page for suggested questions you can ask. In addition, your vet should listen to you, answer your questions, explain procedures, test results, and diagnoses clearly, and should offer husbandry suggestions.
The founders of the Green Iguana Society are aware that costs are often a concern while getting veterinary care for your iguana. This is why we encourage iguana owners to get whatever veterinary care they can. If all you can afford is the physical exam, it is far better to get that than to not go in at all. The mini-panels for bloodwork are often half the cost of a full panel, so that can be a suitable option. You do not have to get x-rays and bloodwork. If you can, get the bloodwork before you get the x-rays, since it will give more information to you. There are ways to insure your iguana is healthy, even without expensive veterinary care.